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Is Avalanche Education Enough To Prevent Backcountry Accidents?

Colorado Tourism pushed backcountry safety this season. But a string of high profile accidents still occurred.

The Colorado Tourism Office (CTO) faces a dilemma: With COVID-19 restricting resort capacities, Centennial Staters are spending more powder days in the backcountry. While mountain towns crave the dollars adventurers drop when they visit, CTO director Cathy Ritter says the agency isn’t encouraging anyone—rookies or experts—to venture into avalanche territory. Instead, the CTO launched a multiplatform campaign to teach those already headed off the groomed path about avalanche forecasts, classes, and responsible recreation. All that education hasn’t rid the backcountry of accidents, though—at press time, four off-piste skiers in the state had died in avalanches this season. A Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) report may explain, in part, why: Last winter, those with intermediate or advanced training were caught in more snowslides than beginners, likely because they felt confident enough to try steeper terrain (people with the highest levels of training also reported fewer mishaps). This year’s wildly unpredictable snowpack isn’t likely to help matters, either. CAIC director Ethan Greene isn’t against CTO’s campaign, of course. He just has additional advice: “No matter your education level, don’t let your guard down.” You might not be as smart as you think.

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